In last week’s article (#1 of 2), we took a used Squier Stratocaster that I’d purchased off of Craigslist, checked it out and got deep into the setup process. We filed down the nut slots to spec, set the neck relief, checked that all frets were level and smooth the rough fret ends.
We also noted some problems with the way the bridge was setup, which we’ll resolve in this article, and we cleaned the fretboard and frets.
Pop the Pickguard!
No. Wait. Don’t unscrew the pickguard just yet. We’ll drill the hole for our switch while the pickguard is held securely by its screws.
First, I determine where I want the switch, centering it between the pickup selector switch and the volume & tone knobs. With an automatic center hole punch, I made a small depression that will help keep my drill bit from wandering.
I used a step-bit and drill my hole to 9/16″. Very rarely are any wires harmed, and a lot of time is saved by drilling the hole while the pickguard is still fastened. Note that I will have to file a notch in the hole to accept the spline that prevents the switch from rotating.
When I first started making Super Squiers, I used rectangular swtiches, but I quickly learned that they don’t make rectangular drill bits! 🙂 I may go back to the rectangular ones though, now that I have a laser cutter/engraver (I mean, after I figure out how to set it up!).
Fire-up the Soldering Iron!
Once the hole was drilled and the notch filed, I pressed the switch into place, then filed, fluxed and primed each joint with solder.
Blue wire brings “hot” from volume pot left lug (if lugs pointing toward you) to neck pickup. This allows the neck pickup to be forced “on”, regardless of selector switch position, thus allowing 2 extra positions – neck + bridge (selector switch position #1) or all 3 pickups at once (selector switch position #2).
Note that your volume pot has 3 lugs. One is grounded to the pot case; the center one accepts the hot wire from the output jack, and the last one sends the potentiometer’s output to the switch, to be sent to the pickup. So we’re adding a second wire to this lug, sending it to one lug of our SPST switch and continuing from the other switch lug to the neck pickup lug of the 5-way switch.
When our new switch is in the “off” position, the 5-way selector switch performs normally. When “on”, the neck pickup is always on. So, if the 5-way is in #1 position (bridge pickup), you’ll now be playing bridge + neck pickups. If it’s in the #2 position (bridge + middle), you’re now playing a voluminous, full combination of all three pickups at once!
I’ve connected the 3rd (bridge tone) and 2nd (middle pickup tone) lugs so that the bottom tone control now works both the middle and bridge pickups. This allows tone control for the bridge pickup when it is the only pickup being played. Note that the middle pickup’s tone control already controlled both middle and bridge pickups when the selector switch is in position #2, playing middle and bridge pickups together, but did not control the bridge pickup when it was played solely (until now).
While the strings are off, this is your last chance to clean the pickguard and pickups that will be covered by the strings. I like to use car polish from Walmart. I’ll use Meguire’s when I need to tackle scratches or other serious jobs, but for everyday guitar cleaning, Nu Finish car polish works wonders!
This is a good time to inspect your pickup poles and pickguard screws for rust. Consider getting a new, loaded pickguard if your poles are corroded. You can get some great deals on ebay and I’ve usually found the pickups to be as good and even better than stock pickups.
If you have some pickguard screws that have worn out their threads in the body, use some Titebond glue and a bit of toothpick to refill the hole.
What I do is dip the toothpick in a dab of glue, then stick it into the hole until it bottoms. Then I pull it about an eighth of an inch back out and snip it off with wire cutters, then press it all the way back into the hole, leaving a depression to guide the screw. Usually there is no need to pre-drill.
Hey – Watch out! You were just about to forget to clean the headstock, weren’t you??? Well, the strings are gonna cover it too, so better polish it up now. The hardware could use a bit of buffing also. (You missed a spot..over there!)
We’ve finished the wiring, but we’re not through making this a true “Super Squier” as per my definition on SuperSquier.com. The least we need to do, other than complete the setup, is install roller guides like you find on most American Fender Stratocasters.
String Roller Guides
You always hear Gibson players complain about their G-strings (and D), but Fender’s standard string guides have a lot more friction than those center nut slots on 3×3’s. You don’t hear as many complaints, maybe because Fender players are just more easy-going! 🙂
There are a couple of styles to choose from, and I don’t think it really matters other than perhaps aesthetically. I tend to like the Fender-style guides, but not the little legs they come with. Those legs require 2 drill holes for each guide.
If you get one hole a tiny bit offset, then the string guide will be offset and look awful. Also, that creates a bit more friction and friction is what we’re trying to eliminate. So, I usually cut the leg off and use my bench grinder to smooth the bottom. But I didn’t do that in this case and the results are just a tad out of alignment.
Tremolo Bridge: Float, Deck or Block?
Remember in last week’s article (#1 of 2), I talked about the tremolo bridge being floated too high? Well, step one to rectify that is to set the five bridge screws in the front of the bridge. I snug each screw all the way in, but not real tight. Then I back off between 1/4 and 1/3 turn. It’s best to do that now before we put the new strings on.
Once our strings are installed, stretched and (roughly) tuned, we’ll work on balancing the tremolo springs so that we get the desired float height of 3/32″ at the rear of the bridge.
(For 2-point tremolo systems, set the bridge to be parallel to the guitar body).
It’s important to mention though, that for most players, you’ll be better off decking the tremolo bridge so that the rear of the bridge sits firmly (but not hard) against the guitar body. This allows tremolo use in one direction while maintaining a good degree of tuning stability.
Of course, if you want maximum tuning stability and you don’t intend to use the tremolo (vibrato), then you may want to block it to prevent any movement in either direction. If you don’t want to go to that trouble even though you won’t be using a tremolo, you might decide to just “hard deck” the bridge, which simply means to have enough pressure from the springs that even the hardest bends won’t lift the bridge.
To float the bridge, a quick way to get to the “ball park” tension is to tighten the springs and block the bridge (with a wedge) at the height you want it floated, then tune the strings. Finally, loosen the springs until the wedge is released. You should be very close to the right setting.
Before You FLIP Your Guitar..
You were about to turn the guitar over, weren’t you? Either now, to insert your strings (though I prefer a DIY holder/stand that holds a guitar on its side), or later when you reinstall the tremolo cover.
But wait! You could damage your frets if you’re not careful. Frets are made of a relatively soft alloy that can be dented easily. Once a fret is damaged like that, you either need to level and crown or replace the fret.
What I do is slide an empty string package under the strings to protect the frets while the guitar is upside down.
Installing Guitar Strings
Fender puts nines on their Strats and Teles – Mexican Stratocasters, American Strats and Squier/Starcaster Strats. I figure Leo knew what he was doing and the fact that Fender still uses #9 strings on their 25.5 inch scale guitars is enough to convince me to stay the course.
You’ll have people tell you that tens, elevens even twelves are “better”, “louder”, “fuller” and forestall your hair from going gray, give you better odds in the lottery and other fairy tales. If you enjoy working harder and having sore fingers, then why not go with thirteens? Otherwise, it’s nines.
Out of all the things that supposedly help your guitar tone – fretboard material, what wood the body is made of, eagle feathers at the headstock, etc. – strings really do matter a little. Not a lot, tone-wise – but perhaps a little. It’s enough to make me spend an extra buck and get D’Addario or Ernie Ball. But not enough to go for Elixir, etc. unless I want flat-wounds, or something exotic. But then, I’d probably go for the feathers first.
I always lightly coat each string with 3-in-1 oil. Here in Florida, it seems to keep the corrosion at bay. I imagine it might protect from skin oil, etc., also. But there may be good arguments against it. All I know is I’ve done it for years and it works for me. No magic tonal benefits though!
Guitar Tuning & Intonation
I tune-up from high-e to low-E. There seems to be a lot fewer adjustments needed when working that way as opposed to low-E to high-e, but hey – whatever floats your boat.
Once I’m roughly tuned, I stretch each string, retune then stretch each string and retune. Rinse and repeat until each string stops going flat. Now, I recheck relief (truss rod) and string heights (saddles).
Finally, I do a fine-tuning of each string, then I go back to e and intonate. Then B. Then G, etc.
You’ll often find that A and E need to be pulled back so far that the spring and even the screw length prevent accurate intonation. Well, that’s what those holes in your wire crimping tool are there for.
The 6-32 hole usually works. You can just cut the springs, roughly in half, with your wire cutters. After these “adjustments”, you should be able to intonate A and E.
When you intonate from the 12th fret, be sure and check the cowboy fret area also. I try to get intonation as close as possible at the 12th and the 3rd.
Guitars are not precise instruments and you can probably put that in all-caps when talking about guitars in the economy range. You can never assume that just because you’re intonated correctly at fret #12 that fret #3 or fret #20 are going to be right-on. For most of us mortals, fret #3 is going to get played much more than #20 or even #12. (Hey, I used to think those were all “extras” in case I wore out one of the first five! 🙂
Well, let’s see now – where are we? We’ve setup the guitar, added our Super Squier mods, installed good strings, stretched, tuned and intonated..OK, so far so good but before we start playing, let’s polish the entire guitar and don’t forget to replace the back cover plate!
OK, you can play that thing now! Have fun!